In what is being billed as the greatest match in history, Pakistan came agonisingly close to successfully making the highest ever total for a team batting second: 350, but needing 9 off the last over. They were upheld by Nehra’s tight bowling, constricting the light-green’s to only three singles.
The long-awaited series between Pakistan and India got off to a ‘run fest’ at the National Stadium in Karachi, with India ending victorious, scraping home by five runs.
Man of the match, Inzamam-ul-Haq, justified his position as one of the best batsmen in the world, scoring 122 in an innings of chic and elegance which is arguably the best of his career, but not enough to lead his side to victory.
The pace was enthralling throughout the game as the batsmen from both teams struck the ball to all corners of the national stadium.
Sehwag set the tempo, blasting 79 of 57 balls to give India the perfect start, Ganguly chipped in with 47 and Dravid deserved a century for his innings, becoming the third player in Indian history to be out on 99.
Pakistan’s batsmen also joined the party with Inzamam’s century; Youhana revived Pakistan’s chances with 73 and Younis Khan, back from the wilderness, scored 46.
Winning the toss, Inzamam put in India on a pitch he believed contained some moisture, but that theory was dispelled from the very start of the Indian innings with Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag getting stuck into the Pakistani pace attack.
Shoaib Akhtar’s first ball down the leg-side was the first of 38 extras given by the Pakistani bowlers, who lost all control of line and length as they were pounded to every part of the ground.
Tendulkar survived an early dismissal off Shoaib Akhtar, caught at square leg off a no-ball delivery in the third over, then adding insult to injury, hooking Akhtar for six in the same over.
Sehwag batted the only way he knew, smacking everything in his path as India raced to 50 in five overs. Shoaib eventually got his man when Tendulkar directed a drive to Hasan at backward point.
This only paved the way for Sehwag to continue his destruction of the bowlers.
Sehwag’s innings deserved a century but was outdone by a terrifically disguised slower ball from Hasan, who was nursing figures of over seven runs an over.
This gave Ganguly the perfect opportunity to get his 50 if only he didn’t hit a short ball straight in the air with Hasan catching off his own bowling.
The Indian captain was left standing, wondering how he got out.
Dravid was joined by Yuvraj, who did not affect the scoring much.
Mohammed Kaif, who has made a name for himself as a useful lower middle order batsmen, showed great promise as he and Dravid continued to pick up runs at a healthy run rate, but credit to the Pakistan bowlers, who managed to lower the run rate from over 10 to around seven runs an over.
The pair took the score comfortably past 300 with a sintilating stand of 117.
Kaif was the last recognised batsman in the Indian line-up when he came in at 220-4 with more than 20 overs to go, which would have exposed a less than reliable tail.
Kaif worked well in tandem with Dravid, who continued from his top form in Australia with an innings which oozed confidence.
Dravid had driven a pitched up delivery from Shoaib Akhtar to reach 99, but agitation got the better of him as he shuffled around his crease looking for a quick single, but managed to get done by a slower ball from Shoaib, which he edged on to his stumps, a great injustice to a great man.
India reached 349, a score most would think would be defendable as no team batting second has scored more than 340.
This was a match full of twists and turns and more to keep fans waiting with bated breath.
It was a game the fans did not want to see end but a match that, like a good film, kept the audience guessing until the very end as to who would win.
Pakistan’s openers, Yasir Hameed and Imran Farhat – who have cemented their place in the team by compiling century stands in their last four matches – could not get out of the blocks like their Indian counterparts. The middle order was superb although Youhana did survive an early dismissal but Yuvraj Singh’s dive was not far enough to get to the ball.
Youhana and Inzamam rotated the strike well, picking up singles and then without breaking sweat, going for the big one, hitting straight and through the line of the ball for sixes.
Pakistan’s task went from impossible to hopeless as they lost both openers early on and stumbled to 71 for 2 in 15 overs.
The disclipined bowling of Zaheer Khan and Balaji did not give Inzamam and Youhana much chance, but with so much experience between the two superstars, they put on a 100 run stand of elegant fashion to put Pakistan back in the frame.
Earlier, the crowd had been delighted by Dravid, whose innings was so pleasing to the eye that it is worth watching again and again.
Inzamam’s was a fraction better as he made light work of the Indian bowling, not playing any rash shots and it was a bit of an anti-climax when he nicked one to the keeper of Kartik.
Younis Khan continued the good foundations built by Youhana and shared another century stand with Inzamam, who was at the apex of his game.
When Inzamam did part, Abdul Razzaq was the perfect replacement, making sure he continued the good work. Razzaq struck cleanly through the ball with a few boundaries and a towering six which ended up on the roof.
The ball took such a pounding from the batsmen that it clocked up more air miles in one day than most balls do in a lifetime!
Younis’s good work was undone by spinner Kartik, bowled while trying to edge the ball down to third man.
Razzaq was done by Zaheer’s slower ball and suddenly everyone was on the edge of their seats.
There was to be another twist in the tale when Pakistan were within sight of the target.
Needing 10 from eight balls in the penultimate over, Shoaib Malik lofted a shot straight down the ground, long-off fielder Mohammed Kaif took what is sure to be the best catch this year and possibly even in the history of cricket, running and diving to catch the ball and avoiding a serious collision with long-on fielder Hemang Badani.
Pakistan were left with needing nine to win off the last over.
The responsibility to bowl the last over was left in the hands of Ashish Nehra, and he duly obliged his captain by bowling the perfect over at the death.
Moin Khan was left with the responsibility to get the winning runs as the senior batsman along with tailender Hasan. Nehra held his nerve and bowled straight and full at Hasan, who stole a single off the second ball.
Pakistan needed a boundary to ease the tension but Moin could not respond, only getting a single of the fourth ball.
Hasan then grabbed a single of the penultimate ball, leaving Moin to hit a six off the last ball. Pakistan had beaten India in a similar situation back in 1986, when current Pakistan coach Javed Miandad, hit a maximum off the last ball of the match to give his team victory in the Sharjah Cup final.
Miandad offered his advice to the hapless Moin Khan, who could only loop a low full toss to the mid-off fielder.
India drew first blood in the series but the Pakistani crowd knew they had witnessed one of the greatest matches to take place there and appreciated both teams’ performance on the pitch.
On another day Pakistan would have given away fewer extras and would have bowled better, but then we may not have witnessed the passion and fighting spirit of both teams.
An excellent showpiece to open the series, and the Karachi crowd’s good behaviour was acknowledged by all and may boost their chance of hosting a test match in the future.